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This Is the World’s Tallest Tropical Tree

The yellow meranti in Malaysia’s Sabah state is 330 feet tall and weighs more than a jetliner

(Unding Jami)
smithsonian.com

A yellow meranti in the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo is now the world’s tallest tropical tree. Earlier this year, local climber Unding Jami of the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership made it to the top and dropped down a tape measure to confirm it stretched nearly 330 feet from its canopy.

“It was a scary climb, so windy, because the nearest trees are very distant. But honestly the view from the top was incredible. I don't know what to say other than it was very, very, very amazing,” Jami says in a press release.

The tree, named Menara, the Malay word for tower, weighs in around 180,000 pounds, the equivalent to a fully loaded Boeing 737-800. Just 5 percent of that mass is contained in its crown. The other 95 percent is found in its thick, straight trunk.

Researchers conducting Lidar surveys of the forests in the region had identified the tree in scans. In August 2018, researchers trekked to collect 3D image and drone footage of the behemoth.

The scientists say that analysis of the structure of the tree indicates it could grow even bigger. But wind may be a constraint, so they doubt it or other trees would go too much taller. Still, John C. Cannon at Mongabay reports that the Menara's location is perfect for tall trees since the state of Sabah is outside of the typhoon belt to the north of it. And its island location means it doesn’t get the massive, violent storms that form over larger landmasses.

It’s probable that if taller tropical trees are out there, they would be discovered in the same area, the Danum Valley, a conservation area where logging is prohibited and where the trees have some measure of protection.

Menara isn’t the first tree to hold the world’s tallest tropical title to come from Sabah. In 2016, the previous record holder, a 293.6-foot yellow meranti was measured in Sabah’s Maliau Basin Conservation Area. Prior to that, the record came from a yellow meranti in Sabah’s Tawau Hills National Park.

The record may be surpassed sooner than you think. Cannon at Mongabay reports that ecologist Greg Asner of Arizona State University, who found one of the previous tallest trees, has tweeted that he believes he’s discovered a monster meranti, though he has yet to confirm its height.

Which tree is the biggest is not what excites researchers the most. “It’s the science telling us these trees do exist, they are reaching heights we have perhaps never anticipated and there will be other tall trees out there that haven’t been discovered yet,” Doreen Boyd from the University of Nottingham, who led the Lidar study, says in an interview with the BBC. “It tells us that we do need to protect these trees.”

While yellow meranti trees do face pressure from loggers onthe island of Borneo, the Forestry Department has extended protections in the Danum Valley. The state of Sabah, meanwhile, has pledged to protect 30 percent of its land area by 2025, most of which is covered by tropical forests.

In case you were wondering, the world’s tallest tree, Hyperion, was discovered in Redwood National Park in California in 2006 and is 379.7 feet tall.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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